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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderfully complex
Ian Tregillis' stunning debut novel, Bitter Seeds, escapes categories and defies description. It's an alternate history of World War II, in which the Germans truly develop "supermen," battery-powered, and in which the beleaguered British secretly call on malevolent powers beyond our space/time to defend their island, paying in blood. Tregillis bases his fantastic...
Published on April 19, 2010 by Susan Loyal

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29 of 31 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A flawed but ultimately likeable debut
1939. In the closing weeks of the Spanish Civil War, British intelligence agent Raybould Marsh is dispatched to meet an informant who claims to have vital information about some of Nazi Germany's top-secret weapons being field-tested in the conflict. The informant explodes in front of Marsh with no apparent cause. As the clock ticks down to war between Britain and...
Published on August 24, 2010 by A. Whitehead


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29 of 31 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A flawed but ultimately likeable debut, August 24, 2010
By 
A. Whitehead "Werthead" (Colchester, Essex United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Bitter Seeds (Hardcover)
1939. In the closing weeks of the Spanish Civil War, British intelligence agent Raybould Marsh is dispatched to meet an informant who claims to have vital information about some of Nazi Germany's top-secret weapons being field-tested in the conflict. The informant explodes in front of Marsh with no apparent cause. As the clock ticks down to war between Britain and Germany, it is discovered that Germany has developed technology that can turn certain, gifted individuals into super-beings, people who can turn invisible, manipulate fire or even predict the future.

Britain's fortunes in the war turn sour as the Germans seem to be constantly one step ahead of them, destroying the transports carrying out the evacuation of Dunkirk and striking down the radar towers that will be needed to protect the country from Luftwaffe bombing. But Britain is not completely unprotected, and the newly-formed Milkweed organisation has resources to call upon which dwarf even the powers of the German ubermensch. But these powers are not to be summoned lightly...

Bitter Seeds is Ian Tregillis' debut novel and is a brash, refreshing alt-history which sees Nazi superhumans and British warlocks battling to the death during WWII. It's a cool premise, generally well-handled with a large and complex story being effectively told through a small number of POV characters on both sides. However, if the story sounds too big to be contained within a single volume, you would be right. In an increasingly annoying trend in modern SFF publishing, Bitter Seeds is the first novel in a trilogy (dubbed The Milkweed Triptych) despite this fact not being mentioned anywhere on the cover or inside the book. The story doesn't come to an end or really any kind of conclusion, just screeches to a halt 350 pages in with a number of stories broken off mid-flow. The follow-up volumes will be entitled The Coldest War and Necessary Evil.

That out the way, Bitter Seeds works successfully on a number of levels. Characters are drawn pretty well, with British secret agent Raybould Marsh being an effective central character, driven by passion and rage, whilst his amateur magician friend, Will Beauclerk, makes a good foil for him. Will's story assumes greater importance as the novel proceeds, culminating in some shocking moments near the end of the book that hint that his role in the sequels will be very interesting indeed. The opposing characters, such as Klaus and his River Tam-like sister Gretel, are also intriguing characters, although the way Tregillis handles Gretel's potentially tension-destroying prescience (by making her a whimsical fruitcake who sometimes lets the Nazis lose battles due to the callings of A Higher Plan) seems to be dramatically unsatisfying, with Gretel working as a constant deus ex machina-in-residence, who may or may not defeat our heroes' plans at the whim of the author.

Elsewhere, Tregillis has done his homework, with WWII Britain described in convincing detail and atmosphere, even if the book's (relatively) slim page count means that some elements need to be skipped or drawn only in broad strokes. His alteration of history is well-conceived but is a little inconsistent: at first it appears that the Nazi superhumans will be providing explanations for real oddities in the war (like the ease with which the German armoured columns passed through the supposedly impenetrable Ardennes Forest), but later the outcome and course of the war shifts very dramatically away from the historical, and in fact becomes credence-stretching by the time we get to the end of the novel. This is fair in that it reflects the tone and plot of the novel, as supernatural forces become increasingly prevalent in their impact on the world, but those who prefer their alt-history to be more closely tied to real events may be underwhelmed as the book deviates radically from established history by the end.

Tregillis has a nice way with words, particularly in descriptive prose, but this is inconsistent. Nice, flowing prose is replaced by a more prosaic, infodump-heavy mode with little forewarning, increasingly favouring the latter as the novel progresses. This is disappointing as Tregellis' writing is what lifts the book above more plot-driven WWII alt-histories by the likes of Harry Turtledove and John Birmingham, but as the book continues to unfold his prose becomes more ordinary and less engaging.

All of that said, the book is short, fast-paced and, for all its faults, remains something of a page-turner. It is the finely-judged character interrelationships, particularly the increasingly tense friendship between Raybould and Will and the fraught sibling relationship of Klaus and Gretel, which defines the novel and leaves the reader eager to read on into the next novel.

Bitter Seeds (***˝) fails to live up to its full potential, but remains an effective and readable debut novel. It is available now in the USA and on import in the UK.
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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderfully complex, April 19, 2010
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This review is from: Bitter Seeds (Hardcover)
Ian Tregillis' stunning debut novel, Bitter Seeds, escapes categories and defies description. It's an alternate history of World War II, in which the Germans truly develop "supermen," battery-powered, and in which the beleaguered British secretly call on malevolent powers beyond our space/time to defend their island, paying in blood. Tregillis bases his fantastic elements so thoroughly in philosophical, scientific, and occult preoccupations from the mid-20th century, however, that the novel reads almost like mainstream historical fiction. The echoing footsteps in the halls of the Admiralty after the blackout curtains have been drawn might almost be sounding in C.P. Snow's Strangers and Brothers novels. Indeed, the escalating cost of defending Britain, though expressed as dark fantasy, resonates strongly of the desperate race to develop a nuclear bomb that Snow recounts in his novel The New Men.The New Men (Strangers and Brothers)

Our primary viewpoint characters are Klaus, proud of his successful engineering as a superman but increasingly haunted by the process, and Raybould Marsh, an intelligence officer who would have preferred to be in an Alan Furst novel. As Marsh begins to grasp how much the Gotterelektrongruppe changes the nature of the war, he turns to William Beauclerk, whose grandfather taught him a secret language that allows negotiation with the Eidolon--a language Will would much rather forget. The internal conflicts that drive the main characters make them complex and interesting. Additionally, both Klaus and Marsh come to realize that they are being manipulated by Klaus' precognitive sister, Gretel, who has her own enigmatic agenda.

The plot runs like an advanced-level ski slope with perfect snow, and the novel can be thoroughly enjoyed just at that level. We are left in the end with a question that drives deeper, however. When you have done the unbearable to keep others from doing the unthinkable, who have you become?

Bitter Seeds is the first volume of the Milkweed Triptych. I strongly recommend it and eagerly await volume two, The Coldest War.
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12 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars entertaining action-packed alternate historical thriller, April 17, 2010
This review is from: Bitter Seeds (Hardcover)
Wanting to build a superman and superwoman, German scientist Dr. von Westarp chooses WWI German orphans as his base for his experiments. Although many die and others are deformed, by 1939 the mad scientist has succeed in constructing his master race. However as WW II breaks out, he plans to use them to insure The Third Reich is victorious and remains in power for a thousand years. However, one of the successful test subjects Klaus fears his sister Gretel is using her precognitive skills to manipulate the team, but what agenda is remains unclear.

Meanwhile British secret agent Raybould Marsh, who has his own father figure in Stephenson, knows first hand how powerful the enemy supervillains are as the German war machine blitzkriegs through all enemies. He enlists mage Will Beauclerk to help the British side, whose chances of victory seem slim. Will brings on allies from the warlock community including Olivia whom Marsh marries and has a daughter with her. When he ignores the warning not to deal with the mysterious Eidelons who will offer little and demand a lot, Will sees no other hope as the Germans are winning in the air, land and sea due to being the superpower.

Although the cast is never fully developed beyond comic book stereotypes, readers will enjoy this entertaining action-packed alternate historical thriller. With homage to Moore's Watchmen, fans of action-packed WWII dramas will appreciate the loaded Bitter Seeds as superpower German warriors battle the mages of Britain for control of the continent and ultimately the world.

Harriet Klausner
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Conflicted, not in a good way, June 7, 2010
This review is from: Bitter Seeds (Hardcover)
The story starts out pretty great. I'd put it at the top of my imaginary list of the best first chapters I've read this year. But from the second chapter out it lags. I wanted to love this story. I got so excited when I read about this book on a favorite fantasy blog. I ran up to my husband with excited squeals of, well, excitement, 'there's a book coming out that has nazi super villains against British warlocks, yeahhh!' He gave me a bored look and quoted a list of comic book storylines similar to this, but I didn't care (and kinda didn't believe him) because the plot sounded so inspired and fun to me.

It isn't fun and all it inspired me to do was to reread The Lies of Locke Lamora and The Hobbit to minimize my disappointment.

Don't get me wrong, this is as fabulous a story as you will ever read, but actually following the story is terribly dull.

Let's start with the main characters; Marsh and Will.

Marsh, who is stereotypically stolid, brave and strong (also, a real hit with the ladies) has a romance with Olivia (which is skipped, of course). Romance being a no no in stories about WWII and other action-y stuff. I can accept that, but the long build up before Marsh actually does anything besides mention how mysterious things are, was boring. I have a low tolerance for the big B and wading through dull meetings between, Will and Marsh. Marsh and his contact at the War Office, Marsh and the dude who gave him a ride, was as blah as it sounds.

Now onto to Will. Will is a peer of the realm, (for some bizarro reason I kept thinking of Ashley from Gone With the Wind, but that's just me, I'm sure he was more manly than Scarlett's forbidden love). He's also pretty fly with the girls and has a family with a mysterious talent who he's had a falling out with for reasons that are hinted at until almost the middle of the book.

The story shows signs of nonsensical delays as you get hints about warlocks, but nothing definitive about what they are, what they can do and why the hell they haven't offered to help before now.

On the plus side, the super powered nazi kids are much better represented, I didn't have to stop and think to figure out who was who when the story flipped over to their part. I even felt bad for them, they had such an exploited and tortuous life. Their part of the story was much more interesting and dare I say, exciting?

Anyway, I guess you should read this book for yourself. My complaints are more of a stylistic nature than a content problem. I like a little more spice to my books and this just didn't do it for me.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Great premise, so so execution, September 17, 2010
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This review is from: Bitter Seeds (Hardcover)
I was completely jazzed about the premise, but leery because of some of the reviews. I ordered it anyway.

The premise is just too good and promising for what actually happens in the book. I found quite frequently that Tregillis was showing me parts of the action that I really didn't care about, and but only summarizing or alluding to the things I would rather have seen. I found myself *wanting* to like this book a lot more than I actually like it.

I disagree with the other reviewers who slammed the character development. It was okay. It's obviously not Thomas Hardy, but it's not Sidney Sheldon either. I think the problem some people are experiencing with the characterization is a side effect of the author's poor choices in what to highlight and show from an action stand point.

I'm also not sure why I didn't realize that this was the first book of a trilogy, but I went into it expecting a stand alone story. Unless reviews of future installations are significantly better, I won't be purchasing the next two volumes.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Quality alternate history read!, July 31, 2010
This review is from: Bitter Seeds (Hardcover)
For those of you who haven't been keeping track, Ian Tregillis' Bitter Seeds is the last book I was assigned to read by George R. R. Martin for losing our second NFL wager. GRRM has done pretty good by me since I lost that first bet, so I was actually looking forward to reading this book.

Here's the blurb:

It's 1939. The Nazis have supermen, the British have demons, and one perfectly normal man gets caught in between.

Raybould Marsh is a British secret agent in the early days of the Second World War, haunted by something strange he saw on a mission during the Spanish Civil War: a German woman with wires going into her head who looked at him as if she knew him.

When the Nazis start running missions with people who have unnatural abilities--a woman who can turn invisible, a man who can walk through walls, and the woman Marsh saw in Spain who can use her knowledge of the future to twist the present--Marsh is the man who has to face them. He rallies the secret warlocks of Britain to hold the impending invasion at bay. But magic always exacts a price. Eventually, the sacrifice necessary to defeat the enemy will be as terrible as outright loss would be.

Alan Furst meets Alan Moore in the opening of an epic of supernatural alternate history, the tale of a twentieth century like ours and also profoundly different.

As a paranormal alternate history yarn, Ian Tregillis tinkers with the history of WWII and its genesis. The author takes us back to Spain during the Civil War, while the bulk of the action takes place in Great Britain and Germany. Tregillis has an eye for historical details, and his narrative truly makes the reader feel as if they're right there. His style is evocative without being too dense, and he managed to capture the essence of Spain, France, England, and Germany in a beautiful manner.

The only aspect of this novel which sort of kept nagging at me was the total absence of the pogroms and the entire Jewish angle of WWII. Considering just how important what came to be known as the Holocaust was and still echoes down the decades since the end of the war, it felt odd -- to say the least -- not to see a single mention of this atrocious genocide.

Other than that, however, Bitter Seeds makes for compulsive reading! The pace flows extremely well, and there is not a dull moment throughout. Following Marsh and the rest of those working on Operation Milkweed trying to puzzle out how to face and defeat the German superhuman soldiers was quite a treat. Another facet which I found appealing is that the author attempts to imbue the story with as much realism as possible, be it with the warlocks' magic (which takes a heavy toll and requires a blood price for every spell) or the supernatural abilities of von Westarp's children.

The narrative is broken down into a number of POVs, with the principals being that of Raybould Marsh, Klaus, and William Beauclerk. This allows readers to see events unfold through the eyes of both the Allies and the Nazi war efforts, as well as the warlocks' involvement. Still, as interesting as these points of view ultimately are, it's the enigmatic gypsy-born German seer Gretel who takes the cake as the most fascinating character of this book. I found myself looking forward to any scene featuring her and was seldom disappointed. Though Tregillis only offers us a glimpse of her psyche and her powers, the ending really makes me want to know what will occur next.

The blurb can be a little underwhelming, I know. But do give Ian Tregillis' Bitter Seeds a chance and you won't regret it. As things stand, in this house at least, it's the speculative fiction debut of the year.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A masterful mix of mad science versus the dark arts unlike any other, May 6, 2010
This review is from: Bitter Seeds (Hardcover)
The year is 1939 and World War II is upon us. The Nazi have raised their own team of elite battery-powered X-Men through scientific means called the Gotterelektrongruppe. The British have access to dark, blood thirsty demons. Both sides make undeniably hard decisions in the effort to thwart the other.

Bitter Seeds begins when many of the main players are children and where we see how events of the past entwine their future for the rest of the narrative. The British dark magicians pass on their knowledge to their children for some very interesting reasons. The subject matter involving Nazis may turn some people off, but Tregillis handles delicate matters deftly and does not at all show support or in any way condone what they did. In fact he has clearly made the group at large the bad guys while molding some of the Nazis into deep and complex characters. And he has developed a great mad scientist that rivals Dr. Moreau. Both sides stoop to some very evil yet justifiable depths, but when doesn't that happen in real war? Harsh times call for harsh decisions.

Ian Tregillis has arrived and what a bright and promising voice he has brought to bear. Bitter Seeds is an extraordinarily original work of fiction that blends ideas of Alternative History, Fantasy, and Science Fiction seamlessly yet denies being labeled specifically as one type. No matter how you approach it though it wins on each count.

The view point switches between various characters but mostly settles on Klaus for the Gotterelektrongruppe who can walk-through walls and spymaster Raybould Marsh for Milkweed, which is a covert group in Britain. Marsh is kind of the Jason Bourne of the book as you follow his missions into enemy territory. Both Marsh and Klaus show unbelievable strength as characters to endure. Tregillis has a knack for knowing when to switch view points. Just when you want to long to see what's going on in the other camp he delivers. Other standout characters are William Beauclerk whose makes pacts with demons he hardly understands and Gretel, Klaus's sister, who is as mysterious as any seer of the future ought to be. Gretel is a very central character as she shapes future events, but to what end is still unknown.

The swiftly moving Bitter Seeds is a debut from a new and powerful voice in speculative fiction that I hope stays around for years to come. If you are a fan of dark comics or alternative histories Bitter Seeds would be well worth your time as we see a masterful mix of mad science versus the dark arts unlike any other. I give Bitter Seeds 9 out of 10 hats. Bitter Seeds is the best debut so far this year and I can't see leaving it off my year end best of list. I suspect it will be on many others as well.

Tregillis has caught me as much with his originality this year as much as Jesse Bullington and Ken Scholes did last year. Bitter Seeds is the first in a trilogy, but it more than stands on its own. However, you are left with greater implications on the world stage as events lead into Tregillis's version of the Cold War. The second in the Milkweed Triptych, The Coldest War will be released in February 2011. Tregillis is also part of the Wild Cards consortium helmed by George R.R. Martin with stories in the three latest volumes.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Something nobody seems to be mentioning, November 14, 2013
By 
S. Adams (NORMAN, OK, US) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
OK, look. Here's the thing. I'm not much of one, regularly, for 'alternate histories' and REALLY don't care at all for 'military histories' or 'histories of war.'

That said, I'm only like 50 pages into this book and am HOOKED. It's not, at this point, the story. Though I'm sure that the story of Nazi mutants and English sorcery is going to be better than I expected. The reason I'm sure the story is going to be better than I expected is the prose.

Oh, great gods the prose. Ian Tregillis could write his daily chore list and it would be interesting if it were written with this level of skill. I am not exaggerating. None of the blurb-writers have even managed to briefly touch on just how captivating Mr. Tregillis's use of the English language is. How vast and descriptive and imaginative his use of imagery and mood. How terribly and graphically gripping without being terrible and graphic. I'm only a little way in, and already excited to read the second and third books. The literary snob and general logophile in me is rejoicing at every sentence, every carefully crafted and cunningly placed thought. I'm breathless at the skill and attention to detail Mr. Tregillis has brought to this story.

As I said, I'm sure the story is excellent. And I'm sure it's excellent because for the first time in a very long time, I'm actually enjoying the words and sentences themselves. I'm hooked and captivated. I want more.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Feeling disappointed, September 16, 2013
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The concept was great, I read reviews and seemed like a hit. When I was at 50% of the book I found myself bored. The character development feels flat, there is a problem with the narrative when I don't care if the good guys live or die. Tregillis has great ideas, but fails on deliver them.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A CORE OF BRILLIANT DARKNESS THAT PULLS YOU IN PAGE AFTER PAGE, June 6, 2012
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Review of Bitter Seeds by Ian Tregillis

Bitter Seeds is a great novel. I was pulled in right away by the beautiful prose and the compelling storyline. I couldn't put it down and read it in three days, wishing I had the time to read it in one. It's an alternate history set during World War II with fascinating characters and gripping action. Here's the blub:

* * * * *

"It's 1939. The Nazis have supermen, the British have demons, and one perfectly normal man gets caught in between.

Raybould Marsh is a British secret agent in the early days of the Second World War, haunted by something strange he saw on a mission during the Spanish Civil War: a German woman with wires going into her head who looked at him as if she knew him.

When the Nazis start running missions with people who have unnatural abilities--a woman who can turn invisible, a man who can walk through walls, and the woman Marsh saw in Spain who can use her knowledge of the future to twist the present--Marsh is the man who has to face them. He rallies the secret warlocks of Britain to hold the impending invasion at bay. But magic always exacts a price. Eventually, the sacrifice necessary to defeat the enemy will be as terrible as outright loss would be.

Alan Furst meets Alan Moore in the opening of an epic of supernatural alternate history, the tale of a twentieth century like ours and also profoundly different."

"A major talent... I can't wait to see more."
--George R. R. Martin

"Mad English warlocks battling twisted Nazi psychics? Yes please, thank you. Tregillis's debut has a white-knuckle plot, beautiful descriptions, and complex characters-- an unstoppable Vickers of a novel."
-Cory Doctorow

* * * * *

As you can tell, this book has received a lot of attention by major writers and reviewers, and deservedly so. There are many positive reviews online and I agree that this is an exceptional book. I was so impressed with the way Tregillis unfolded the plot, and revealed the characters, of which there are three whose point of view we get to see.

Raybould Marsh is a British spy right in the middle of things; William is a British nobleman who was secretly taught to be a warlock by his slightly insane father; and Klaus is one of the German's "supermen" with wraith like abilities. All three add a lot to the novel, and there are quite a few other secondary characters that are quite fascinating as well.

The most interesting other character is the sister of Klaus, Gretel, who has also been mutated via diabolical processes and now she can predict the future, and warp it to her will. She's the most powerful of all of the Nazi "supermen," and is on the cover of both the mass market and hard cover editions for good reason. I wish Tregillis would have let us into her mind, but that would be too telling I'm sure, as she knows what's going to happen and would ruin the mystery of what is to come.

This is a trilogy called the Milkweed Tryptych, and Bitter Seeds came out in 2010. The sequel, The Coldest War, is coming out in July of 2012, so I/we don't have long to wait now. I feel late to the party, but at least I got there eventually. I'm stoked about reading the sequel, and have just pre-ordered it on Amazon. The cover is awesome and shows one of the "supermen" in great detail. Their abilities are powered by horrific surgery, which connects their brain to special batteries they wear around their waists. The "superman," Klaus was forced into being a Nazi soldier, and he is extremely sympathetic, and his chapters are always interesting.

Every chapter was finely crafted, and the big time span gaps between some chapters really added to the coolness of the story. All the chapters have a date on them: month, day and year, which helped a lot. Anyway, this is not a large book, and only spans about 350 pages, but so much was accomplished. It was so impressive how little Tregillis told about what was happening in the actual wider war, but still incorporated a huge story in between the pages, as he focused on the three main characters and their experiences as wider events played around them. They are a huge part of those larger events, but this is not the alternate history of World War II in detail. There are lots of hints, but Tregillis doesn't go into detail much at all. I would have liked more about how certain battles were going and such, but those issues weren't the point of the book.

Some of the wider war was actually shown in incredibly written interludes from the point of view of flocks of ravens and crows that feast on the dead after major battles. The interludes from the birds point of view were so awesome. Tregillis has a flare for brilliant description, and his ability to be brief, and yet powerful, is amazing.

The book opens with a chapter from the ravens point of view. Here's the first line:

Murder on the wind: crows and ravens wheeled beneath a heavy sky, like spots of ink splashed across a leaden canvas.

It's a great first line.

Bitter Seeds is a little bit X-Men, a little bit James Bond, with a core of brilliant darkness that pulls you in page after page.

Highly recommended.

Paul Genesse
Author of the Iron Dragon Series and Editor of the Crimson Pact anthology series
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